Mangroves rule.

Let Them Eat Shrimp originated as a story for National Geographic Magazine— the article is a great preview for the book. The slide show is amazing, of course.

Kennedy Warne visits mangroves from Bangladesh to Eritrea to Panama and Brazil. Though the title references shrimp farms, the book is centered on the ecology of mangroves, the cultures they support, threats to their continued existence, and ecosystem services. Culture? Yes–just like the rainforests referenced in the subtitle, mangroves support people who depend on them for shellfish, charcoal, fisheries, and even honey. Their exploitation by small groups of people may be sustainable, but mangroves are vulnerable to coastal development for tourism, timber, and shrimp farms. Warne travels the globe and finds that many governments protect mangroves on paper, but enforcement is lacking and development is often unregulated. It’s not all bad news though, there are some encouraging stories of innovative sustainable development and reforestation programs, mangrove restoration and mitigation. None of the policy or science is excruciating or boring, however. It reads more like a travelogue– I was reminded of Douglas Adams’ “Last Chance to See”, one of my favorite books. Tigers hunt the mangroves in Bangladesh, while monkeys in Tanzania use their tails to lure crabs. A humanitarian/cell biologist leads reforestation efforts in Eritrea, a traditional fisherman uses otters to funnel fish into a net in Bangladesh.Β  Warne tells fascinating stories that are linked by mangroves, linking ecology and humanity.Β  Warne does for mangroves what E.O. Wilson has done for ants– illustrates their importance not only in ecology but in society.

Warne says that he is interested in mangroves because “they’re maligned, they’re marginalized….Mangroves are underdogs.” He champions them well. Though not everyone may find them beautiful, they provide services that should easily win friends, such as nursery habitat for fish and shrimp, roosting and nectar for birds, storm buffer, silt trap, and carbon sink.

Based on the title, I was expecting more comparison between the costs of shrimp farming and wild shrimp harvesting, but the shrimp farms are one of many issues in the book. The book is refreshingly free of instructions on how to live our lives or condescension towards the first-world lifestyle. Warne does not talk down to the reader or preach.

Thanks to Island Press for letting me read this book through Netgalley .

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